NBCC Awards/Imagined Conversations With Patti Smith

1. In Parul Sehgal says that reviewing belongs to the province of pleasure and that good reviews show how a mind moves… “Criticism is an art, not a science.” The first of the night’s shaky-knee victims, she said she wore a sari to hide them. 2. William H. Gass! Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award for Dalkey Archive Press. Do you know only 3% of books in America mainstream publishing are translations into English? More than 50% of Dalkey books are translations. Take that America! 3. Eric Banks, from the NBCC board, with Sarah Bakewell, whose legs were “giving way” which I guess is Briticism for shaky-knee syndrome.

The National Book Critics Circle Awards ceremony at the New School last night was lovely. The winners were all incredibly gracious, with many a-shaking knees, tearful thank yous, and much mention of the word “humbled.”

The winners are:

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Parul Sehgal

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: Dalkey Archive Press

Biography: Sarah Bakewell, How To Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Other Press)

Poetry: C. D. Wright, One with Others: [a little book of her days] (Copper Canyon)

Criticism: Clare Cavanagh, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (Yale

University Press)

Nonfiction: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Random House)

Autobiography: Darin Strauss, Half a Life (McSweeney’s)

Fiction: Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad (Knopf)

1. C. D. Wright’s book was praised for being “crucial,” a new form and a new genre. 2. Criticism winner Clare Cavanagh said she felt “like Sally Fields winner the Oscars.” Also, her son just got his learners permit, and she was pregnant when she got her contract for the book. You know when they say your book is like your baby?

After the ceremony, everyone was rushed off by their editors and publishers to the (I imagine) boozy and food-filled reception down the block. Sadly, I didn’t have a ticket, but I was able to catch a glimpse of all the literary peeps up close as they made their way to the door. Then I saw Patti Smith. Holy shit! She looked exactly like Patti Smith! Just Kids (Ecco) was an autobiography finalist, and though she didn’t win, she still looked fucking cool standing in the back of the auditorium and checking her cell phone. She was wearing small round glasses (kind of like the kind Jonathan Franzen wears, and me too [when I’m in class, to see to board]), a grey hat, and a big black coat. I spent a while mentally preparing myself to say something to her.
“Hi, my name is Emily. I’m writing for Electric Literature’s blog. Can I take your picture?”

“Hi. You’re great.”

“Um, hi!”
Then we both sing an a cappella version of Because the Night.

Of course, as I’m trying to figure out how to talk to her, every single person I should be talking to and taking a picture of walks past. At some point, when I had about given up and prepared myself for the wet and windy trek back to Brooklyn, PATTI SMITH ACKNOWLEGED MY EXISTENCE AND SMILED AT ME.

–Emily Firetog is working towards an MFA at Columbia.

1. Isabel Wilkerson was “honored beyond measure.” 2. Darin Strauss, autobiography winner for Half A Life.

1. Jennifer Egan took the award in fiction for A Visit From The Goon Squad. She said that critics were the guardian angels of her book.

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